06 Jul 2009

Sample Essay: Delhi-City Of India’s National Identity

The present study is an attempt to explore the historical significance of Delhi especially during the Mughal rule.

Delhi is a city of contrast one of the oldest cities in the world and now one of the most progressive, she combines a unique between the ancient and the modern side by side.
Iti is India’s show window. A truly cosmopolitan city it has brought within its fold people of all ethnic groups and their traditions and culture, reflected in a variety of arts, crafts, cuisines, festivals and lifestyles. Delhi is pulsating with music concerts, dance festivals, theatre performances and art exhibitions.
Modern India’s history is synonymous with Delhi. It was from the ramparts of its Red Fort that India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled the National flag on August 15,1947, signifying the end of the three hundred years long British rule.

A Tale of Eight Cities

One of the oldest living cities in the world with Delhi’s 20,000 ruins. Delhi is history, and Delhi’s monuments are tablets on which the history is written. Every conqueror did his best to possess Delhi and make it his capital. Delhi is not a single city but a combination of eight cities that have been established here from as early as 900 BC to 1930 when the British completed the construction of New Delhi as the capital of imperial India. It is, therefore not surprising that the monuments of Delhi successfully mirror the development of the architectural styles in the country.

The earliest references to Delhi are in Buddhist and Jain scriptures but these sources cannot be precisely dated. In the great Indian epic Mahabharata composed around 900 BC, there is mention of the Indraprastha, a city founded by the Pandavas on the banks of the river Yamuna. The next mention of the city is during the rule of Raja Anangpal who builds his fort in the Qutab area. In the 11th century AD, Raja Anangpal of Kanauj a Tomar king established Lal Kot as his capital city in the vicinity of the Qutab Minar. This was the first city of Delhi. Anangpal successors ruled from this fort for almost a century until Visal Deva, a Chauhan Rajput raja from Ajmer conquered Delhi.

Towards the end of the 12th century Mohammed Ghori invaded from Afghanistan, defeated Prithvi Raj, Visal Deva’s grandson, and occupied Delhi. He however, returned to Afghanistan soon after leaving his new kingdom in the trusted hands of Alla-ud-din Khilji. The Lal Kot continued to be the capital till 1303 when Khilji defeated the invading Rajputs at Siri and constructed Delhi’s second city in the area.

During the Tughlak rule (1320-1412) the third and fourth cities of Delhi were founded. Ghyas-ud-din Tughlak founded Tughlakabad which took four years to build but was deserted soon after due to a scarcity of water. Sultan Mohammad-bin-Tughlak constructed Delhi’s fourth city called Jahanpanah close to the Qutab Minar to protect his people living in the open plains from attack by invaders.

Founded by Firoz Shah Tughlaq (1351-88) Delhi’s fifth city was named Ferozabad and was located in the vicinity of the present Feroz Shah Kotla.

Constructed in an area said to be the ancient city of Indraprastha, Purana Quila was erected by the Mughal Emperor Humayun between 1533-34 and was forced to flee from Purana Quila by in the invading Afghan warrior Sher Shah Suri (1530 -39). Sher Shah Suri built a beautiful hall and mosque in the fort and ruled from her till 1555 when Humayun returned to power and recaptured the fort.

Shahjahanabad or old Delhi as it is now called was build by Emperor Shah Jahan as Delhi’s seventh city between 1638 and 1649. This city comprises of the famous Red Fort, Jama Masjid and contains many fine examples of Mughal architecture.

The Mughal rulers in India

In the early sixteenth century, descendants of the Mongol, Turkish, Iranian, and Afghan invaders of South Asia–the Mughals–invaded India under the leadership of Zahir-ud-Din Babur. Babur was the great-grandson of Timor Lenk (Timor the Lame, from which the Western name Tamerlane is derived), who had invaded India and plundered Delhi in 1398 and then led a short-lived empire based in Samarkand (in modern-day Uzbekistan) that united Persian-based Mongols (Babur’s maternal ancestors) and other West Asian peoples. Babur was driven from Samarkand and initially established his rule in Kabul in 1504; he later became the first Mughal ruler (1526-30).

His determination was to expand eastward into Punjab, where he had made a number of forays. Then an invitation from an opportunistic Afghan chief in Punjab brought him to the very heart of the Delhi Sultanate, ruled by Ibrahim Lodi (1517-26).

Babur, a seasoned military commander, entered India in 1526 with his well-trained veteran army of 12,000 to meet the sultan’s huge but unwieldy and disunited force of more than 100,000 men. Babur defeated the Lodi sultan decisively at Panipat (in modern-day Haryana, about ninety kilometers north of Delhi). Employing gun carts, moveable artillery, and superior cavalry tactics, Babur achieved a resounding victory. A year later, he decisively defeated a Rajput confederacy led by Rana Sangha. In 1529 Babur routed the joint forces of Afghans and the sultan of Bengal but died in 1530 before he could consolidate his military gains. He left behind as legacies his memoirs (Babur Namah ), several beautiful gardens in Kabul, Lahore, and Agra, and descendants who would fulfill his dream of establishing an empire in Hindustan.

When Babur died, his son Humayun (1530-56), also a soldier, inherited a difficult task. He was pressed from all sides by a reassertion of Afghan claims to the Delhi throne, by disputes over his own succession, and by the Afghan-Rajput march into Delhi in 1540. He fled to Persia, where he spent nearly ten years as an embarrassed guest at the Safavid court. In 1545 he gained a foothold in Kabul, reasserted his Indian claim, defeated Sher Khan Sur, the most powerful Afghan ruler, and took control of Delhi in 1555.

Humayun’s untimely death in 1556 left the task of further imperial conquest and consolidation to his thirteen-year-old son, Jalal-ud-Din Akbar (r. 1556-1605). Following a decisive military victory at the Second Battle of Panipat in 1556, the regent Bayram Khan pursued a vigorous policy of expansion on Akbar’s behalf. As soon as Akbar came of age, he began to free himself from the influences of overbearing ministers, court factions, and harem intrigues, and demonstrated his own capacity for judgment and leadership. A “workaholic” who seldom slept more than three hours a night, he personally oversaw the implementation of his administrative policies, which were to form the backbone of the Mughal Empire for more than 200 years. He continued to conquer, annex, and consolidate a far-flung territory bounded by Kabul in the northwest, Kashmir in the north, Bengal in the east, and beyond the Narmada River in the south–an area comparable in size to the Mauryan territory some 1,800 years earlier

Akbar built a walled capital called Fatehpur Sikri (Fatehpur means Fortress of Victory) near Agra, starting in 1571. Palaces for each of Akbar’s senior queens, a huge artificial lake, and sumptuous water-filled courtyards were built there. The city, however, proved short-lived, perhaps because the water supply was insufficient or of poor quality, or, as some historians believe, Akbar had to attend to the northwest areas of his empire and simply moved his capital for political reasons. Whatever the reason, in 1585 the capital was relocated to Lahore and in 1599 to Agra.

Mughal rule under Jahangir (1605-27) and Shah Jahan (1628-58) was noted for political stability, brisk economic activity, beautiful paintings, and monumental buildings. Jahangir married the Persian princess whom he renamed Nur Jahan (Light of the World), who emerged as the most powerful individual in the court besides the emperor. As a result, Persian poets, artists, scholars, and officers–including her own family members–lured by the Mughal court’s brilliance and luxury, found asylum in India.

Nur Jahan’s abortive schemes to secure the throne for the prince of her choice led Shah Jahan to rebel in 1622. In that same year, the Persians took over Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, an event that struck a serious blow to Mughal prestige. Between 1636 and 1646, Shah Jahan sent Mughal armies to conquer the Deccan and the northwest beyond the Khyber Pass. Even though they demonstrated Mughal military strength, these campaigns consumed the imperial treasury. As the state became a huge military machine, whose nobles and their contingents multiplied almost fourfold, so did its demands for more revenue from the peasantry. Political unification and maintenance of law and order over wide areas encouraged the emergence of large centers of commerce and crafts–such as Lahore, Delhi, Agra, and Ahmadabad–linked by roads and waterways to distant places and ports. The world-famous Taj Mahal was built in Agra during Shah Jahan’s reign as a tomb for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It symbolizes both Mughal artistic achievement and excessive financial expenditures when resources were shrinking.

The last of the great Mughals was Aurangzeb (r. 1658-1707), who seized the throne by killing all his brothers and imprisoning his own father. During his fifty-year reign, the empire reached its utmost physical limit but also witnessed the unmistakable symptoms of decline. The bureaucracy had grown bloated and excessively corrupt, and the huge and unwieldy army demonstrated outdated weaponry and tactics. Aurangzeb was not the ruler to restore the dynasty’s declining fortunes or glory. Awe-inspiring but lacking in the charisma needed to attract outstanding lieutenants, he was driven to extend Mughal rule over most of South Asia and to reestablish Islamic orthodoxy by adopting a reactionary attitude toward those Muslims whom he had suspected of compromising their faith.

A puritan and a censor of morals, he banned music at court, abolished ceremonies, and persecuted the Sikhs in Punjab. These measures alienated so many that even before he died challenges for power had already begun to escalate. Contenders for the Mughal throne fought each other, and the short-lived reigns of Aurangzeb’s successors were strife-filled. The Mughal Empire experienced dramatic reverses as regional governors broke away and founded independent kingdoms. The Mughals had to make peace with Maratha rebels, and Persian and Afghan armies invaded Delhi, carrying away many treasures, including the Peacock Throne in 1739.

Thus Delhi as we know today is nothing without the history that has gone into its making as the capital of India. If you take away history, you take away Delhi’s cultural identity and leave the cosmopolitan flavor suspended in vacuum, detached from any context. For, Delhi’s cosmopolitan nature and prowess is derived from its rich historic past.

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